It's not a tropical resort but it sure looks like one from the road.
Potential home buyers who see Apollo Beach's MiraBay may think they could never afford to live here, but they're in for a pleasant surprise.
The dip in the housing market has made new construction in the gated community located on U.S. 41, 14 miles south of downtown Tampa, affordable to many people.
Sure, there are $1 million homes in the 700-home waterfront master-planned community, but there are also homes starting at about $180,000.
Most new construction is in the $180,000-to-$400,000 range, said Pam Parisi, marketing director for Newland Communities in Tampa.
"It's by design. Newland tries to offer different homes at different price points to appeal to a wide variety of buyers in different stages of life," she said.
"People don't know it's affordable," said Dawn Turner, marketing manager of MiraBay and Fishhawk Ranch, another Newland community. "It used to have the reputation of being posh and only for the rich."
It's not. You will find empty-nesters alongside retirees and families with young children sitting around the two heated pools or mingling at the boat launch in the community, which will have 1,700 homes when it is completely built out.
Most homes have massive front porches and are painted in the Key West-style colors of seashore homes — light turquoise, pale yellow, light green. It is reminiscent of Seaside in the Florida Panhandle.
"When you look down the streets, you see porches, not garages," said Chip Barker, marketing coordinator for MiraBay (mirabay.com). "It's a walkable neighborhood where people hang out on their porches."
If you don't meet your neighbors walking down the street, you can meet them cruising around on your boat. Many homes are on canals that wind their way around MiraBay and flow out to Tampa Bay.
The community offers many opportunities for residents to meet one another in planned gatherings such as Margarita Madness and Gasparilla parties.
The least expensive homes — villas (duplexes) and cottages — are built on 60-foot lots. The most expensive homes — custom estates — are built on 100-foot lots. The 750-acre MiraBay community borders Wolf Branch Creek Nature Preserve.
"The water draws nature in," Turner said. "You see lots of birds."
"And you see dolphins and manatees," Barker said. "I watched a manatee being born."
MiraBay has commercial space, including a Sweetbay Supermarket. More stores are expected to be built as the economy picks up, Parisi said.
One of the homes in MiraBay was chosen as the 2004 Idea House by Coastal Living magazine.
"Each structure, from community buildings to houses, features distinctive exterior details that pay homage to the past," the magazine wrote about MiraBay.
"People say MiraBay feels like being on a cruise ship on land," Barker said.
"It's real relaxed and coastal."
Patti Ewald is a freelance writer based in Gulfport. She can be reached at email@example.com.